It's Teen Read Week!
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
There's so much to do if you're a teen today. You can hang on Facebook; you can IM or Skype your friends till the wee hours of the morning. You can play video games for days. You can text and talk on your fancy smartphone till the cows come home. HEY! HOW ABOUT READING A BOOK???
Reading a book has some great advantages. It's free, and you can do it just about anywhere. Reading has been proven to increase test scores and to improve performance at work. Books can take you away to places you've never been and on journeys you've never imagined. They can educate you in so many ways. So why can't we get our teens to read more for pleasure?
Part of the problem is finding just the right books — the ones that excite teens and hold their interest. And those books are out there. Look at the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games phenomena. For the past sixteen years, I've tried hard to find books that will help my students understand the joys of reading for pleasure. One way I did this was to create a course at my high school called Mysteries. Everyone loves a good mystery, right? The response to the course was overwhelming. Students signed up in large numbers, and I worked hard to make sure that I could provide them with books that would appeal to them on many levels.
My checklist for a great teen read is:
- Will it appeal to both genders?
- Will the characters interest today's teens?
- Is the dialogue realistic?
- Is the plot sophisticated enough to engage young, and sometimes jaded, youth?
- Is there enough suspense to keep the pages turning?
- Does it address issues young people care about?
- Does it encompass themes that teens can connect to?
I went right to Book Wizard for help and discovered the book Lucas by Kevin Brooks. Lucas met all the above criteria, so it was no surprise that my students loved it. It was different from most YA books they read: no vampires, no rich kids traipsing through Manhattan in designer clothes. In fact, the setting of Lucas — a small island off the coast of Great Britain — already takes the students into a whole new world. The island appears idyllic, but, as evidenced by the arrival of the title character, Lucas, the townspeople can be judgmental and violent when confronted with someone who is different from what they know.
Caitlin, the 15-year-old main character, is mesmerized by the ethereal Lucas, who lives off the land and can seemingly predict what other people are thinking and how they are about to act. Cait is walking that shaky line between childhood and adulthood, and without the help of her mother, who died in a car accident, she is somewhat lost. When Cait is attacked by one of her brother's friends and Lucas saves her, the die is cast. The novel explores the important themes of compassion, justice, courage, and honor. And my students devoured it, as you can tell from these quotes:
Noelle: I know you told us we had three weeks to finish this book that you gave us yesterday, but I read the whole thing over the weekend, and I'm just going to burst if I can't talk to someone about it!
Armando: Miss, I know I told you I hated to read, but I actually read this whole book, and I really looked forward to reading it before I went to bed each night.
Carlos: Why did the book have to end this way???
Meghan (in response to Carlos): Don't you see it HAD to end that way?!
Tanisha: I'm in love with Lucas. More people should be like him. Why do people judge others so harshly? Why do people hate anyone who is different?
Kelsey, Joelle, and Samantha talk about Lucas.
Jason and Alexis talk about Lucas.
My students enjoyed writing about Lucas. One assignment I gave them was to discuss what it means to be different in today's society. The essays on this topic were amazing. And Lucas resulted in some of the most spirited discussions I've had in my classroom. The free teaching resources available helped facilitate the book talk. It's a perfect selection for Teen Read Week, as are these tried and true winners:
- Kissing the Rain, another by Kevin Brooks (also has free teaching resources)
- The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (more on this one in a future post)
- Wanted by Caroline Cooney
- The Road of the Dead, also by Brooks
- What Goes Aroundby Denene Milner
Any of these books will surely get your teen reading!